Friday 18 August 2017

Review by Alexandros Plasatis of "Conjunctions:67 - Other Aliens"

"Published by Bard College, with editorial offices in New York City and Annandale-on-Hudson, New York, Conjunctions is a cornerstone of contemporary literary publishing. Since 1981, the journal has been a living notebook in which authors can write freely and audiences read dangerously" Bradford Morrow, Conjunctions editor.

This starts with two stories by Leena Krohn, translated from Finnish by Eva Buchwald. Sweet beginning, I thought, foreign. Nice, slightly eerie stuff. The first story, a story that made me feel a little sad, is entitled In the Quiet of the Gardens and is about Sylvia’s private world as we see it portrayed in her own creations of miniature gardens.

Later on in the volume, in Clouds, by Julia Elliott, an earth-woman and a sky-man go in a tavern and get hammered on organic, biodynamic wine from a local vineyard where they bury bull horns crammed with cow manure to add to the taste (if you’re into this sort of stuff and you live near Valley Falls State Park in West Virginia, please visit the Red Wolf Tavern). After getting drunk, they end up in bed, where the earth-woman explores the sky-man’s anatomy: firm chest, uncircumcised erection. They have mammalian sex (with satisfying crescendos), and the earth-woman gets pregnant and gives birth to a half earth- half cloud-baby, Adelaide. The problems begin when the earth-woman meets her sky-woman mother-in-law. Ah, mothers-in-law, you always, always mess things up.

In Valerie Martin’s Bromley Hall, Americans Janet and Frank visit the UK, but Janet isn’t happy with the hotel room they stay in and wants to be moved to another one and this really pisses off Frank who, in order to punish her, refuses to go to Bromley Hall with her. Janet doesn’t give a shit and decides to go on her own. Big mistake, Janet. So she gets on a bus driven by a very weird Indian man, then the bus breaks down in the middle of the highway (motorway…) and Janet feels all adventurous and walks off to find Bromley Hall. This is when she really starts missing Frank, and she will miss him much, much more when she gets to meet the DNA samplers…

Tinkerers by Lavie Tidhar takes place on the Mountains of the Moon. Atmospheric night-prose here, with farting horses, donkeys, scorpions, caiques, and the Stranger in a lonesome journey, riding away from the Doinklands and into wild, dark forests, until he comes across a couple of tinkerers (dwarfs) and their wagon. I liked these two characters, the dwarfs, they were funny and scary at the same time. I felt blessed being a smoker while reading this story – that bit about the pipe stuffed with cherry-flavoured tobacco got me going.          

Tinkerers is followed by an interview with Samuel R. Delany, conducted by Brian Evenson, which I found very, very interesting and informative, and, actually, an entertaining read. After that, there is a sad story with a very beautiful ending, Matthew Baker’s Transition.

50 pages of Conjunctions 67 consist of a selection of letters from James Tiptree, Jr. (the pen name of Alice Bradley Sheldon) to the feminist SF writer Joanna Russ (who, for most of the time, didn’t know that Tiptree was a woman). Nicole Nyhan did a great job gathering and slightly editing those letters. There are many moments in those letters where the writing is beautiful and sharp, and there’s plenty of advice for writers.

The Process Is a Process All Its Own, by Peter Straub, is another beautiful story in this volume. It’s a horror story (I went to the toilet 4 times) that won’t let your mind drift away, and which, sometimes, made me smile with its clever prose (Only the strongest, most distinctively individuated, if that’s a word, of individuals can control the colorations of the words that pass through them).

In the pages of Conjunctions you will also find Madeline Bourque Kearin’s first ever literary publication. Her strength, I found, lays in beautiful descriptions: “I watched the buds on trees open and close like grasping fists and watched the pink blooms of rhododendrons yawn in and out of existence.”  

Joyce Carol Oates is a long-time Conjunctions contributor. I never read any of her stuff. For some reason I had this idea that her writing was King Kong-like, you know, dark, with heavy balls, and sloooow, one step …zzzvvvbooom… another step half an hour later, zzzvvbam…. The Undocumented Alien was nothing like what I imaged though, the prose was lively and funny and energetic, zip zip zip, mosquito-sounding-like, minus the annoyance.

I won’t write anything about E. G. Willy’s short story Radio City, except to say that I’m an admirer of his work now. Great style there, fantastic dialogues, a pure joy, fantastic, great fiction, amazing, amazing, so good (that’s my Trump impersonation).

There are many more beautiful stories in there, there are poems, a play, interviews and discussions. I’d like to close with an apology to those contributors that I didn’t mention in this little review of mine.

I’m not a big SF, fantasy or aliens reader, and, still, I’m glad I have a copy of Conjunctions 67.       

About the reviewer
Alexandros Plasatis is an immigrant ethnographer who writes fiction in English, his second language. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in UK and American anthologies and magazines: Meat For Tea, Meridian, Aji, AdelaideBull, UnthologyOverheard: Stories to Read AloudCrystal VoicesblÆkk, Short Fiction in Theory & Practice, and Know Your Place: Essays on the Working Class by the Working Class. He is a volunteer at Leicester City of Sanctuary, where he helps find and develop new creative talent within the refugee and asylum seeker community. He lives in Leicester, UK. 

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